By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“I don’t mind getting old…I just don’t like to look at myself in the mirror,” said Judge Judy, host of the most popular daytime television show, in a New York Times Magazine story recently. The judge is 76 years old.
I am not a fan of old age. But I have accepted it gracefully whenever I see myself in the mirror. Aging saps my energy and the ability to multitask. It also hands me with weak, flabby muscles. There’s a chance of getting sick even if I am careful, and definitely so when I am being reckless in my diet and behavior. Aging causes all kinds of unexpected aches, illnesses, and memory loss. Fortunately, much of my physical pain can be relieved with frequent exercise and sometimes pain-relief cream.
It’s not that I don’t notice the wrinkles on my face. Believe me, I do. They are “attacking” my complexion. And yes, I do mind those brown spots. But I perceive wrinkles as my life experiences, triumph over hard-fought battles, joy over pain, and love over loss and sadness. A glance at myself in the mirror reflects a colorful and exhilarating journey with little regrets. “Good job,” I would nod and say, whenever I look in the mirror.
The DNA factor
Studies have found that genetics determine your longevity to some extent. If your parents and grandparents lived way beyond 80 and 90 years old, chances are you might, too. What if your family tree consists of members who usually die young? Will you die young, too?
Environmental factors can beat biological odds. Some scientists have discovered that if we abuse our bodies and brain, the good cells will be damaged. The reverse can also be true. If we build up ourselves mentally and physically, weak cells can be transformed into strong ones. That’s why you don’t have to worry about inheriting Alzheimer’s if your parents are suffering from it. Folks with parents who lived short lives may live much longer with the help of modern medicine, a healthy lifestyle, and access to valuable information for longevity.
Positive attitude and emotions
Positive attitude and emotions can increase longevity. Age is not relevant. It’s your attitude that counts, one says. Being young at heart can change how you look.
I once met a 92-year-old woman. “What’s your secret?” I asked.
“I love life,” she replied. I noticed that she laughed a lot when talking to people. Her sense of humor was contagious. She lives life to the fullest, and doesn’t fret over small stuff.
Get rid of negative people around you, and those who drain you. Do what you have to do to create positive emotions for yourself every day. In a blog published earlier this year, I wrote about “What makes you happy?” You can find countless ideas to achieve happiness.
Smile even if you don’t feel like it. It will change your life. Try to notice the small positive things around you, and acknowledge them. Don’t be stingy with praise. It doesn’t cost you anything to praise someone. Yet, it can bring joy and means the world to others. When I can scatter joy to someone, I not only make others happy, I make myself happy.
Your cell phone
Attention, cell phone lovers. Endless use of cell phones can produce double or even triple chins, in addition to causing bad eyesight and posture.
In bus stops, restaurants, and many public places, more people are looking at their phone than not. It’s hard to resist. Now that I have shared that with you, pay attention to how you use the phone.
Raise it to at least neck level. Resist using it when you don’t really need to. Take in your surroundings more frequently and move your body.
Most people are unaware that as we age, we tend to lean forward. I was one of them until my employee reminded me, “You slouch!”
How we stand and walk affects not just our image, but our whole body. We tend to walk without noticing how we stand, balance our footsteps, and the amount of pressure we put on the ground. A fitness expert evaluated my steps. He found that I put too much pressure on some points of my foot, thus creating pain. Imagine those who are overweight and those who wear high heels often, how much damage we put on our body!
Remember to stand up tall and raise your head high when your moving.
Stress is the enemy of aging
As I age, I learn that it is not necessary to win all the time. You win some, and lose some. Someone once said, “Life is unfair, but it’s still good.” Sometimes, you won’t find out who the real winner is until decades later. In everything you do, take a long perspective, rather than being upset about the immediate loss and consequence.
When traveling with friends, I found that some friends want to maximize their trip from dawn to dusk, and schedule as much sightseeing as possible. Other friends want to take it slow, and enjoy the time to digest what we learn and see. I agree with the latter. It’s the quality of what we see, not quantity. Can it be fun if we are rushing all the time, and to the point we feel stressed and exhaust ourselves?
Do we need to overwork day after day and week after week? Or do we give ourselves a break every now and then? Stress kills cells fast. It shrinks the brain. For those who have panic attacks often, your body is signaling you to slow down and get help. Creating opportunities and sanctuaries to rejuvenate our body and our soul is vital to our well-being.
Health guru Dr. Oz once asked his television viewers, “What makes you age fast?“
I was surprised when he told the audience that it’s not being overweight, having a bad heart, having a diabetic disease, chronic pain, or even having weak muscles.
“It’s your blood pressure,” he said. Have you noticed that whenever you visit the doctor, the first thing a nurse does is to check your blood pressure. When I had my cataract surgery done, the nurse also took my blood pressure first. When I complained that I might have an ear infection, the nurse measured my blood pressure.
Before, I thought that heart attacks or strokes were the only ways high blood pressure kills. How does it age a person? There is a new study, which connects high blood pressure with dementia and Alzheimer’s. If your systolic (upper number) blood pressure is over 160, it is a dangerous sign. Check with your doctor.
Change your habits through exercise
How do you maintain a normal blood pressure? Some say, you can take medicine. You can. I was once diagnosed with high blood pressure due to stress and unhealthy eating and lifestyle. Of course, my family doctor prescribed me those tiny white pills to control my blood pressure. I didn’t want to rely on pills all my life. So I changed my lifestyle, decreased my consumption of carbohydrates, and began to exercise regularly even though my weight was not an issue. It worked after six months.
What I discovered is, if health is your priority every day, your health will improve over a period of time. But if you tend to be impulsive and live without discipline, your health will suffer quickly. Health is the best weapon to fight aging.
Move, shake, jump, dance, and kick during the day. Develop your own form of exercise and relaxation including yoga, meditation, and singing. That’s how I refresh my body every day. If I can walk and not take the bus, I will. If I can climb the stairs instead of using the elevator, I do. If I can park my car a little farther, I will, for the purpose of adding more steps. If I can fetch something myself and not ask someone else to do it for me, I will. Just find little excuses to move around from your desk, couch. or bed. You will see the difference after a few months.
Unnecessary facial expressions
Lots of people emphasize their words by frowning. This creates wrinkles on your forehead, nose, and around your eyes. You can make your point by raising your voice or using hand gestures and turning your head.
Ask your friend to take your photo when you frown. Then, you will be more aware of your facial expressions.
Drinking and smoking
Decrease your consumption of alcohol. Quit smoking, including vaping. Those are horrible aging agents. Smoking doubles the rate of dementia. Recent news stories have alerted us to how a short time of vaping can damage not only the lungs, but even cause death among young people. Alcohol destroys brain cells. If you want to quit but can’t, get help. It’s never too late.
My 97-year-old friend said, “Take care of little health problems right away, even if it doesn’t sound like much at the beginning.” Small things can turn into a major crisis.
Have a purpose every day, not just a week. Have a daily schedule or to-do list. Don’t isolate yourself, take care of the boredom problem and you won’t feel lonely.
Train your brain
Reading a book engages your brain. Following the news and current affairs and thinking from both sides of an issue will sharpen your brain.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is 82. Yet, she never stops being curious and having fun. She looks for fun things to do all the time. In an interview with AARP, she said, “I’m more interested in [people’s] ideas than their age.”
It’s stimulating and rewarding to work with different kinds of people, including young and old. Let them take charge, and support them. Seeing how leadership flourishes is satisfying and empowering.
Life begins at 30, 50, 70, and even 80. It‘s what you want from life, what you make of it. With determination, you can move forward the age factor.
For related article, see East meets West: Anti-aging foods.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.